The Kindness of Strangers

Refugee Family going to Subotica

Our crowded bus rolled across the undulating plains north of Belgrade, Serbia, on its way to Subotica.

We were looking forward to the city’s Art Nouveau architecture, but unlike us, most of the other passengers onboard could expect nothing more than an uncertain future and the dream of a better and safer life in Europe.

The bus was packed and the majority of passengers were refugees. Subotica is only a few miles south of the Hungarian border, and after clearing the checkpoint, the northbound refugees would be in the EU. Most of the road-weary riders took advantage of the warm, comfortable bus to sleep, but the two rows across the aisle from us were wide awake.

Sleeping Refugees on Bus

A happy Serbian grandmother and granddaughter chatted away, while sharing pizza and a soft drink. Behind them, an exhausted-looking Muslim mom tried her best to comfort her fussy toddler. The seat back separating the four riders was a divide between two worlds that couldn’t be more different.

Quiet words were spoken in the front row, and then a small head peered over the seat, followed by a small hand with a piece of pizza held out to the restless child. With mom’s encouragement, the fidgety little girl became interested in the food, and after a few tiny bites, and a sip of the soft drink, all was well.

Witnessing such an unselfish gesture was incredibly touching for both of us. We snapped this photo with our iPad mini, and while it definitely won’t win any awards for quality, for us, it will always be a special memory.

In these sad days when US presidential candidates use despicable, mean-spirited divisiveness to get votes, these random acts of kindness are the perfect reminder that there’s another way to treat people who may just be slightly different than we are.

“My religion is very simple.
My religion is kindness.”
—Dalai Lama

James & Terri


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

42 thoughts

    1. This really was a touching scene Laura. Our hearts went out to the refugees, and although it was a small thing, it was wonderful to see someone actually helping out. ~James

  1. I believe travel makes us all much more tolerant. We put a face on those we are vilifying and it becomes much more difficult to continue in that ugly behavior. At least, it does for most of us. Thanks for your insight.

    1. Amen Suzanne. Intolerant travelers don’t make long-term travelers, that’s for sure. Travel is an eye-opening experience that, in my opinion, everyone needs to have. ~James

  2. A touching story about the riders on your bus. It is difficult for me to understand how we can’t all agree to disagree and treat each other with respect. IPad mini, maybe, but still a touching picture.

    1. Thanks Tess. Agree to disagree: this is the sort of thing that thinking people do to maintain relationships. Sadly, these days it’s become more a scorched-earth, winner-take-all landscape, whether it’s politics or international relations. ~James

  3. Thank you for sharing this James & Terri. I feel like we have taken giant steps back in time these days, when it comes to other cultures & tolerance. It is good to read that there is still kindness shown towards another human being, regardless of how small that gesture may be.

    1. Lynn, giant steps back in time is the perfect description. (Rant On) I’m biting my tongue, but honestly, I feel that what’s going on in the US presidential race is, in a word: shameful. Yes, unfortunate things happen while traveling and there are lots of bad people in the world. But I’ve been traveling for a long time, and in most places I’ve been, the majority of people have been friendly, helpful, and could care less about my home country or religion. And our differences are what make us interesting, not enemies. (Rant Off). This is one of the reasons that kindnesses, no matter how small, have to be celebrated. ~James

      1. James, I couldn’t agree more. I am appalled at what is going on the States. How it is even possible for candidates running for this office to speak with such hatred & malice for others, is honestly deplorable.

  4. We had a similar incident on a bus in China from Ichang to Wuhan. It was farming country and a young man boarded the bus carrying a very old woman who must have been sick. The tenderness of the man towards this woman in his care was very touching.

    1. In the west, our busy, fast-paced lives sometime obscure these small kindnesses, but when I do manage to see one, it sticks with me. The memory of this bus ride will provide a shield from all the xenophobia that’s so prevalent today. ~James

    1. You’re right Darlene. If there’s anything that we need today it’s a renewal of faith in mankind. I hope that this refugee and her daughter have found a safe haven in Europe. ~James

    1. Thanks Mike. I’m sure that you’ve seen lots of small kindnesses in your travels as well. From what we saw of the refugees in Serbia, they can use all the help they can get. ~James

  5. Such moments are gifts of hope to humanity. Imagine if each person in the world bestowed one act of kindness to a stranger per day what kind of a movement we might have.

    1. Sue, this probably doesn’t impact you so much in Calgary, but here in the US, with our daily dose of yet another unbelievable exchange between our two fine Republican candidates, we’re grasping for any light that we can find. And ironically, I had to go to Serbia to find a ray of light. ~James

  6. Loved this glimpse of kindness from one mother to another which shows the connection that we all share. I’m not sure when some of the people living in the US became so meanspirited towards those needing refuge and the opportunity to live better lives without fear but I’m saddened and angered by what I see and read in the news. Thanks for sharing this story that shows that everyday acts of kindness can have an exponential impact. Your sign off says it all – Peace. Anita

    1. Anita, I’m not normally too uptight about politics. In the best of years, I find it merely distasteful, but as a believer in the democratic process, I recognize it as a necessary evil. And hopefully, most people won’t only see the post as a political comment. The important message is kindness. But having said that, it’s a very sad statement, and I fear, that in this presidential election we well may suffer from de Tocqueville’s “tyranny of the majority.” Let’s pray that things turn out well. ~James

    1. Susan, I’m not sure that craziness in politics will ever end, but I hope that the supreme craziness that we’re experiencing now will end soon. It’s scary and driving ME crazy. ~James

    1. Joanne, just before getting on this bus, we had just gone through the bus station in Belgrade, which is a sad and heartbreaking sight. So, this interaction was even more touching than it might normally have been. ~James

  7. ” The more I traveled the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends”
    This quote came from “Don’t Fall Off the Mountain” by Shirley MacLaine, written in the late ’60s. Fifty years later, and the quote is still relevant.

    1. I hadn’t seen that quote Shelley, and I totally agree. But, I’m afraid that in today’s world, it’s even worse. Because fear makes enemies of people instead of strangers. ~James

    1. Jeannee, if more politicians took their lessons from children, the world would be a much better place. And for most countries, even when they’re being “kind,” there’s an ulterior motive. We can only hope. ~James

  8. As a wise Palestinian told me, when asked if he hated Americans: we should not confuse people and their governments. I still believe most people are good – including many, many (most!) Americans – all over the world. There will always be haters and mean-spirited people that make the news, but little stories like these take place on a daily basis round the world – thanks for sharing yours!

    1. I totally agree Lexie. It’s the classic glass half empty or full argument. I think that most long-term travelers would agree with you, and they definitely fall into the half full category. I can’t imagine living every day thinking that everyone around me is out to get me. What a sad existence that must be. ~James

  9. Such a simple act of kindness and so moving – thank you for sharing it…I still like to hope that it is actual interactions between people that will break down this fear of the other. Reducing people to stereotypes, instead of human beings with hopes and needs like everyone else, is when the hatred can be spread. So sad to see what is happening in U.S politics today but then again we’re also seeing a rise in xenophobic reactions in some European countries too.

    1. I agree with Lexie’s comment above, that most people are good. But somehow, in these times of a 24/7/365 news cycle and the constant search for attention-getting headlines, it’s easy to get the impression that the entire world is on the brink of disaster. In addition to being angry at the hatred and xenophobia being used by the presidential candidates, I’m appalled and embarrassed. Hopefully, the voters in the November elections will rescue us from the madness of the Republican candidates. ~James

    1. Marie, it was an unexpected pleasure to see these people interacting. These are hard times for the refugees, and I’m sure that every helping hand is welcome. This Muslim mother was having a difficult time with her baby, and I’m sure she cherished a bit of help. ~James

  10. Hi, James. I know you have a bunch of followers but yours is one of my favorite blogs so I tagged you today for a Liebster Award (which I think is intended for “new” bloggers). Anyway, I just wanted to share that I’ve linked to your blog on my post. Stay well and thanks for the great posts, as always!

    1. Alison, thanks very much for your kind words and for including us in your list for the Liebster Award. We always appreciate the recognition, and a link to our blog gives us the opportunity to make contact with other talented bloggers like you. ~James

    1. I totally agree. Witnessing the refugee crisis first hand was a sobering experience, but this seeing this unexpected act of kindness made it a bit easier. ~James

What do you think? We'd love to know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s